Chapter 36 Scotland Yard Deduces
The morning of May 18th was uncommonly warn and sunny, but Mr. Harranby took no pleasure in the weather. Things were going very badly, and he had treated his assistant, Mr. Sharp, with notable ill temper when he was informed of the death of the snakesman Clean Willy in a nethersken in Seven Dials. When he was later informed that his tails had lost the gentleman in the theatre crowd--- a man they knew only as Mr. Simms, with a house in Mayfair--- Mr. Harranby had flown into a rage, and complained vigorously about the ineptitude of his subordinates, including Mr. Sharp.
But Mr. Harranby's rage was now controlled, for the Yard's only remaining clue was sitting before him, perspiring profusely, wringing his hands, and looking very red-faced. Harranby frowned at Chokee Bill.
"Now, Bill," Harranby said, "this is a most serious matter."
"I know it, sir, indeed I do," Bill said.
"Five barkers tells me there is something afoot, and I mean to know the truth behind it."
"He was tight with his words, he was."
"I've no doubt," Harranby said heavily. He fished a gold guinea out of his pocket and dropped it on his desk before him. "Try to recall," he said.
"It was late in the day, sir, with all respects, and I was not at my best," Bill said, staring pointedly at the gold piece.
Harranby would be damned if he'd give the fellow another. "Many a memory improves on the cockchafer, in my experience," he said.
"I've done no wrong," Bill protested. "I'm honest as the day is long, sir, and I'd keep nothing from you. There's no call to put me in the stir."
"Then try to remember," Harranby said, "and be quick about it."
Bill twisted his hands in his lap. "He comes into the shop near six, he does. Dressed proper, with good manner, but he speaks a wave lag from Liverpool, and he can voker romeny."
Harranby glanced at Sharp, in the corner. From time to time, even Harranby needed some help in translation.
"He had a Liverpool sailor's accent and he spoke criminal jargon," Sharp said.
"Aye, sir, that's so," Bill said, nodding. "He's in the family, and that's for sure. Wants me to snaffle five barkers, and I say five's a goodly number, and he says he wants them quick-like, and he's nervous, and in a hurry, and he's showing plenty of ream thickers to pay up on the spot."
"What did you tell him?" Harranby said, keeping his eyes fixed on Bill. A skilled informant like Chokee Bill was not above playing each side against the other, and Bill could lie like an adept.
"I says to him, five's a goodly number but I can do it in time. And he says how much time, and I says a fortnight. This makes him cool the cockum for a bit, and then he says he needs it quicker than a fortnight. I says eight days. He says eight days is too long, and he starts to say he's off to Greenwich in eight days, but then he catches himself, like."
"Greenwich," Harranby said, frowning.
"Aye, sir, Greenwich was on the tip of his tongue, but he stops down and says it's too long. So I says how long? And he says seven days. So I says I can translate in seven days. And he says what time of the day? I say noontime. And he says noontime's too late. He says no later than ten o'clock."
"Seven days," Harranby said, "meaning Friday next?"
"No, sir. Thursday next. Seven days from yesterday it was."
"So I says, after a hem and a haw, I says I can have his pieces on Thursday at ten o'clock. And he says that's fly enough, but he's no flat, this one, and he says any gammy cockum and it will go hard on me."
Harranby looked at Sharp again. Sharp said, "The gentleman is no fool and warned that if the guns were not ready at the arranged time, it would be hard on Bill."
"And what did you say, Bill?" Harranby inquired.
"I says I can do it, and I promise him. And he gives me ten gold pushes, and I granny they're ream, and he takes his leave and says he'll be back Thursday next."
"What else?" Harranby said.
"That's the lot," Bill said.
There was a long silence. Finally Harranby said, "What do you make of this, Bill?"
"It's a flash pull and no mistake. He's no muck-snipe, this gent, but a hykey bloke who knows his business."
Harranby tugged at an earlobe, a nervous habit. "What in Greenwich has the makings of a proper flash pull?"
"Damn me if I know," Chokee Bill said.
"What have you heard?" Harranby said.
"I keep my lills to the ground, but I heard nothing of a pull in Greenwich, I swear."
Harranby paused. "There's another guinea. in it for you if you can say."
A fleeting look of agony passed across Chokee Bill's face. "I wish I could be helping you, sir, but I heard nothing. It's God's own truth, sir."
"I'm sure it is," Harranby said. He waited awhile longer, and finally dismissed the pawnbroker, who snatched up the guinea and departed.
When Harranby was alone with Sharp, he said again, "What's in Greenwich?"
"Damn me if I know," Sharp said.
"You want a gold guinea, too?"
Sharp said nothing. He was accustomed to Harranby's sour moods; there was nothing to do except ride them out. He sat in the corner and watched his superior light a cigarette and puff on it reflectively. Sharp regarded cigarettes as silly, insubstantial little things. They had been introduced the year before by a London shopkeeper, and were mostly favored by troops returning from the Crimea. Sharp himself liked a good cigar, and nothing less.
"Now, then," Harranby said. "Let us begin from the beginning. We know this fellow Simms has been working for months on something, and we can assume he's clever."
"The snakesman was killed yesterday. Does that mean they know we're on the stalk?"
"Perhaps, perhaps," Harranby said irritably. "Perhaps is not enough. We must decide, and we must do so according to principles of deductive logic. Guesswork has no place in our thinking. Let us stick to the facts of the matter, and follow them wherever they lead. Now, then, what else do we know?"
The question was rhetorical, and Sharp said nothing.
"We know," Harranby said, "that, this fellow Simms, after months of preparation, suddenly finds himself, on the eve of his big pull, in desperate need of five barkers. He has had months to obtain them quietly, one at a time, creating no stir. But he postpones it to the last minute. Why?"
"You think he's playing us for a pigeon?"
"We must entertain the thought, however distasteful," Harranby said. "Is it well known that Bill's a nose?"
"Damn your perhapses. Is it known or not?"
"Surely there are suspicions about!'
"Indeed," Harranby said. "And yet our clever Mr. Simms chooses this very person to arrange for his five barkers. I say it smells of a fakement " He stared moodily at the glowing tip of his cigarette. "This Mr. Simms is deliberately leading us astray, and we must not follow."
"I am sure you are right," Sharp said, hoping his boss's disposition would improve.
"Without question," Harranby said. "We are being led a merry chase."
There was a long pause. Harranby drummed his fingers on the desk. "I don't like it. We are being too clever. We're giving this Simms fellow too much credit. We must assume he is really planning on Greenwich. But what in the name of God is there in Greenwich to steal?"
Sharp shook his head. Greenwich was a seaport town, but it had not grown as rapidly as the larger ports of England. It was chiefly known for its naval observatory, which 'maintained the standard of time--- Greenwich Mean Time--- for the nautical world.
Harranby began opening drawers in his desk, rummaging. "Where is the damned thing?"
"The schedule, the schedule," Harranby said. "Ah, here it is." He brought out a small printed folder. "London & Greenwich Railway... Thursdays... Ah. Thursdays there is a train leaving London Bridge Terminus for Greenwich at eleven-fifteen in the morning. Now, what does that suggest?"
Sharp looked suddenly bright-eyed. "Our man wants his guns by ten, so that he will have time to get to the station and make the train."
"Precisely," Harranby said. "All logic points to the fact that he is, indeed, going to Greenwich on Thursday. And we also know he cannot go later than Thursday."
Sharp said, "What about the guns? Buying five at once."
"Well, now," Harranby said, warming to his subject, "you see, by a process of deduction we can conclude that his need for the guns is genuine, and his postponing the purchase to the last minute--- on the surface, a most suspicious business--- springs from some logical situation. One can surmise several. His plans for obtaining the guns by other means may have been thwarted. Or perhaps he regards the purchase of guns as dangerous--- which is certainly the case; everyone knows we pay well for information about who is buying barkers--- so he postpones it to the last moment. There may be other reasons we cannot guess at. The exact reason does not matter. What matters is that he needs those guns for some criminal activity in Greenwich."
"Bravo," Sharp said, with a show of enthusiasm.
Harranby shot him a nasty look. "Don't be a fool," he said, "we are little better off than when we began. The principal question still stands before us. What is there to steal in Greenwich?"
Sharp said nothing. He stared at his feet. He heard the scratch of a match as Harranby lit another cigarette.
"All is not lost," Harranby said. "The principles of deductive logic can still aid us. For example, the crime is probably a robbery. If it has been planned for many months, it must figure around some stable situation which is predictable months in advance. This is no casual, off-the-cuff snatch."
Sharp continued to stare at his feet.
"No, indeed," Harranby said. "There is nothing casual about it. Furthermore, we may deduce that this lengthy planning is directed toward a goal of some magnitude, a major crime with high stakes. In addition, we know our man is a seafaring person, so we may suspect his crime has something to do with the ocean, or dockyard activities in some way. Thus we may limit our inquiry to whatever exists in the town of Greenwich that fits our---"
Harranby frowned at him. "Do you have something to say?"
"I was only thinking, sir," Sharp said, "that if it is Greenwich, it's out of our jurisdiction. Perhaps we ought to telegraph the local police and warn them."
"Perhaps, perhaps. When will you learn to do without that word? If we were to cable Greenwich, what would we tell them? Eh? What would we say in our cable?"
"I was only thinking---"
"Good God," Harranby said, standing up behind his desk. "Of course! The cable!"
"Yes, of course, the cable. The cable is in Greenwich, even as we speak."
"Do you mean the Atlantic cable?" Sharp asked.
"Certainly," Harranby said, rubbing his hands together. "Oh, it fits perfectly. Perfectly! "
Sharp remained puzzled. He knew, of course, that the proposed transatlantic telegraph cable was being manufactured in Greenwich; the project had been underway for more than a year, and represented one of most considerable technological efforts of the time. There were already undersea cables in the Channel, linking England to the Continent. But these were nothing compared to the twenty-five hundred miles of cable being constructed to join England to New York.
"But surely," Sharp said, "there is no purpose in stealing a cable---"
"Not the cable," Harranby said. "The payroll for the firm. What is it? Glass, Elliot & Company, or some such. An enormous project, and the payroll must be equal to the undertaking. That's our man's objective. And if he is in a hurry to leave on Thursday, he wishes to be there on Friday---"
"Payday!" Sharp cried.
"Exactly," Harranby said. "It is entirely logical. Yon see the process of deduction carried to its most accurate conclusion."
"Congratulations," Sharp said cautiously.
"A trifle," Harranby said. He was still very excited, and clapped his hands together. "Oh, he is a bold one, our friend Simms. To steal the cable payroll--- what an audacious crime! And we shall have him red-handed. Come along, Mr. Sharp. We must journey to Greenwich, and apprise ourselves of the situation at first hand."